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The Military and the Government

Before the PRC seized power, the military was constitutionally subordinate to the civilian government. It had never played a central role in the political life of independent Liberia. Although leading officers of Americo-Liberian background were often well connected through family ties to the national leadership, they were generally apolitical and subservient to the interests of the president and the True Whig Party.

This situation changed completely when Doe and the PRC came to power. The young privates, corporals, and sergeants (who, with the temporary exception of Doe, were promoted to the ranks of captain, major, colonel, and general) established the PRC as both the national executive and the legislature. Military men were also appointed as superintendents of Liberia's counties and territories and as heads of certain parastatal corporations. Shortly after the coup, the PRC was expanded from 17 members to include 11 additional "co-members" in order to balance the numerical predominance of Doe's Krahn ethnic group. Although it soon became apparent that most of the day-to-day management of government affairs was being left to the cabinet members most of them civilian politicians and technocrats-the PRC's organization and actions made it clear that the military council was the country's central political authority. Each member of the PRC was assigned to several of eight standing committees that collectively oversaw the whole spectrum of government business. Under this arrangement PRC members were, in effect, shadow ministers and could directly exert their influence over ministry policymaking. Because this arrangement enabled some of t responsible PRC members to interfere with and harass government officials, the PRC committees were phased out in December 1981.

During the 1980-84 period of PRC rule, the influence of the young enlisted men who had accompanied Doe into the Executive Mansion lessened as the head of state turned more often to better educated and trained civilian ministers and advisers. In 1984, before the PRC was formally dissolved, it had been largely subordinated to Doe's personal rule. Doe reportedly consulted with the other members of a five-man executive committee, but the other PRC members were by and large excluded from policymaking. The direct political influence of soldiers serving in AFL units was also limited.

On paper, at least, the Liberian government retained a military character because important civilian officials have regularly been commissioned as officers in the AFL. The practice began in July 1981, when Doe traded his master sergeant's stripes for general's stars at the same time that ministers became majors and deputy ministers were given the rank of captain. Critics charged that commissioning the ministers would make them liable to court martial charges under the Uniform Code of Military justice if they did not follow the orders of PRC superiors. Indeed, when Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs Tipoteh (who had been commissioned a major days before) resigned his post while on a foreign mission in August 1981, Doe charged him with desertion. This practice of commissioning civilian officials as officers in the AFL continued even after the 1984 disbanding of the PRC and the formation of an Interim National Assembly (which included the entire membership of the PRC plus 36 civilian members).

The new Constitution approved by popular referendum in July 1984 was designed to eliminate military influence completely from the government. It states that "all military power or authority shall at all times be held in subordination to the civil authority and the Constitution." In its original draft form, the Constitution even prohibited members of the police and the armed forces from voting in elections, but this provision was removed from the final version. According to the new Constitution, "the President . . . shall be . . . the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia." The new Constitution gives the president the power to nominate and, with the approval of the Senate, to appoint, commission, and promote military officers as well as the minister of defense, deputy ministers, and assistant ministers. The president also is given the power to call the armed forces into a state of combat readiness at any time and to declare a state of emergency when there is a "a clear and present danger to the Republic."

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